Nonverbal signals are responsible for 55% of communication, research has found.
If you find that colleagues often misunderstand your meaning, consider whether you might be saying the right words while sending the wrong nonverbal cues, suggests Bernard Marr, a management consultant. He identifies eight common mistakes people make with their body language in the office.
Mistake 1: Frowning while concentrating. Your face can look grumpy even if you don’t feel that way, Marr writes. He recommends smiling whenever possible. It comes with an added benefit: other research has found smiling can improve your mood.
Mistake 2: Overlooking the handshake. When you meet someone, eye contact and a firm (but not too strong) handshake demonstrate confidence and interest in the other person, according to Marr.
Mistake 3: Hiding your hands. Studies have found evidence that audiences tend to be more engaged when the speakers gesture with their hands during a presentation. And people who hide their hands tend to be viewed as untrustworthy.
Mistake 4: Darting your eyes around the room. Most of us know that eye contact is important, but we forget to put it into practice, Marr writes. Look someone in the eye to show you’re listening.
Mistake 5: Fidgeting. Certain habits can look like nervous tics, even if you do them when you’re bored instead of anxious. For example, Marr calls out: tapping your fingers, cracking your knuckles, or biting a pencil. To stop these habits, look to other stress-relievers (like deep breathing exercises) and keep the items you tend to fidget with out of reach.
Mistake 6: Leaning in or out too far. Research has found that you should stand roughly three to eight feet from other people while in a conversation. If you stand closer, people might interpret your posture as aggressive. Stand farther away and they might think you’re disengaged.
Mistake 7: Constantly checking the time. Although smartphones are ubiquitous, it’s still not considered respectful to check them in the middle of a presentation or meeting. Your colleagues might think you’re bored, uninterested, or simply rude.
Mistake 8: Standing with arms crossed. Crossing your arms them between you and the person you’re talking with. That’s why this posture is often interpreted as a defensive or distant pose. When you don’t know what to do with your arms, simply let them fall to your sides, body language experts recommend (Marr, CNBC, 1/5/18; Tan/McGregor, Washington Post, 11/17/15).